Ballads of Suburbia

No longer posting on Live Journal

Hey guys, I just realized that I totally forgot to cross-post the three blog entries that I wrote this week and I feel like that was a sign. I'm trying to make my life a little less complicated this year, so I'm going to be blogging solely on my blogspot blog from now on. It seems to be where I get the most comments, etc and I just find it a little easier to use especially since it is ad-free. If you have major objections, go ahead and comment and I may reconsider. But otherwise go check out my last three entries at There is one about the stuff I did during my time off in December and some tough realizations about my writing career that it led to for the New Year. There is another with a great band recommendation and some I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE fan art. And most recently there is an interview with YA author Eileen Cook about her latest book. Hope to see you over there!
Ballads of Suburbia

Pictures and Wisdom from my Writing Retreat!

Once again I am blogging to you live from the airport! Gotta love airports with free wi-fi (unlike O'Hare or Midway, more points against you sour home Chicago). Anyway, sadly I am now on my way home from my retreat. It is ending way too early as they always do.

I went into this not quite sure what my goals were or what to expect. It wasn’t the same as my trip to San Diego in January where the goal was either make the book work or die. I mentioned in the blog entry that I wrote in the airport when I arrived here that I’d been struggling in a different. It had been so long since I’d started a book that I wasn’t really sure what my process was. The amount of plotting I’d done felt like overkill, writing words for the sake of words during NaNoWriMo wasn’t getting me into the story. I had this awesome opening chapter/prologue, but aside from that, I kept stalling out.

But Monday night when I arrived, I was positive that I would do amazing work when I woke up on Tuesday. Yeah, not so much.

For me, a creature of habit who fears changes, it takes time just to adjust to the retreat space. The house in Arizona that the ten of us rented (Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong doing all the arrangements, so I must give them credit for that because they are incredible, I know it was hard work and they are very busy women and I felt privileged to be invited) was gorgeous. It had:
  • a giant master suite plus four bedrooms
  • a casita (where Melissa and I stayed and we called it “the shed” though it really was like a nice apartment off the side of the house with a kitchenette, bathroom, etc.). It looked like this from the outside:

  • a huge kitchen with a table where most people worked:

  • living room with cozy fireplace where after some trying out of different locales, I mostly worked (on the corner of that black couch):

  • dining room with a big table and regal looking chairs where we had our meals:

  • a pool with a slide, waterfall, hot tub and swim-up bar:

  • tennis/basketball courts

  • fitness room (which was above the casita)
  • media room (like with big chairs and a projector screen, though sadly we never used it)
  • koi pond

  • And my favorite thing an in ground trampoline:

So it was the most luxurious place I’d ever stayed. Plus it was Arizona. Warm. Sunny. Things that Chicago is not.

Work for the most part took place on the big living room couches and chairs and the giant kitchen table. But wanting to take advantage of the sun, I tried writing outside the first couple of days. This is not ideal because the sun makes it hard to see the screen. But I did my damndest to write by the pool and the koi pond. The writing quickly turned to panicked emails to my critique partners because as much plotting as I’d done, the writing still wasn’t clicking. Something just Wasn’t Right.

Day Two, I staked out a balcony which shaded me from the glare, but was still a warm outdoorsy place to write. This was my view:

Except for that I was still stuck. Fortunately the lovely Tara Kelly emailed me and I started to figure things out and she said I could call her. After a good twenty minutes on the phone, I realized I had a very simple fix for my beginning. It was staring me in the face the whole time, I just needed Tara to tap me on the shoulder and go, “Dude, LOOK!” Tara also provided me with music for my book. I felt like this book needs a mixture of angry female punk ala Hole and The Distillers, which I got covered, but also darkwave/synthpop/goth/industrial, which I haven’t really listened to in 10 years. Tara sent me some YouTube videos and made a whole spotify playlist for me that (with a couple of my own additions) I have been listening to pretty much nonstop since Wednesday like these:

I needed music for inspiration, but I don’t generally listen to it while I write. The retreat environment makes this more necessary though because even though we had strictly enforced quiet hours, sometimes I wanted to write through the talking-permitted hours, not to mention listening to everyone else’s keyboards clicking kinda makes me feel like I’m not working hard enough. What will be interesting is to see if I keep writing to this music because I think it really is helping me with the mood of the book.

So I had a total breakthrough on…. Thursday? Friday maybe? (This is the lovely thing about retreat is without a bartending and teaching schedule I don’t have to keep track of the days. I really wish I had more pure writing days.) when I remember how I work. I detailed it in this Tumblr post in the moment, but basically it is this.

I have a long gestational period with books. I think about them for years. I have a few that I am thinking about at a time, so sometimes (like this time and last time), when I finish one it take a while for me to decide which is the next one to pursue. I write back and forth, I ponder, ultimately I picked one. I knew this part already, the next part, I’d forgotten. I have to write in circles for awhile. This may include (as it did this time) writing summary and back story and trying scenes over and over again and writing one solid scene and then trying (and always failing) to write fast. I do this until I figure out the essential things that will keep me moving through the next few chapters.

This took a really long time with this book. I’m not sure if it was my own insecurities holding me back or what, but until I had the discussion I did with Tara and figured out one very basic thing, I could not break into the book. I was starting to think that either A. I’d chose the wrong book or B. since everyone kept saying that I had chose the right book that I simply did not have it in me to write anymore. Then I remembered how. I had the Eureka moment.

Here is how I write WHEN I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING (and mind you I usually only know what I’m doing in terms of where the next couple chapters are going, then I have to trust that I will figure it out as I am writing or I stall out, have the crisis where I brainstorm, call/email critique partners, ponder quitting, etc):

I sit down and reread some NOT all of what came before. I know where I started getting tired and phoning it in the day before and I generally start reading right above that section and start polishing. Polishing eventually continues forward into new words, which are strong at first. Then the words become shitty, but I press on until either A. I get as far as I wanted to get or B. I’ve run out of writing time for the day. The next morning (hopefully) I will repeat this, starting with the polishing and move onward.

Eventually as I recall, I get so into the story that I could give a shit about the polish and I just plow through because this is a first draft (as opposed to a rough or zero draft which is what I ended up doing with The Bartender Book as a result of writing too fast and it was highly displeasing) and I know I’m going to rewrite.

I wish I could stay on this retreat for at least another week or two to get to that point. I’m so fucking excited about this book. I’m excited and I have an idea of what happens in the next couple chapters. Other people on my retreat finished projects or met huge word goals, but this is what I needed and I am pleased with myself.

The only concerns I have now are keeping the momentum going. The awesome thing about being in a house of 8 or 9 writers is that when I start to get tired or have a headache or whatever, all of the excuses that I would totally use to surf the internet or laze around at home, I don’t because I see other people working. So I need to keep that up. I’m also terrified because going home means returning to a lot of none-writing work. I have 400+ pages of student work to read and make notes on by the 13th. I have several freelance deadlines on the 11th. I have one of my best friends in the whole world coming to visit for a month on the 7th. So yeah….. I have to some how keep writing this Modern Myth Book in the mix. Hopefully my determination will be enough.

So as not to end on a nervous/god I hate reality (minus my husband and friends) note, I will tell you a few more awesome things about the retreat:
  • Working in a big giant house gave me a visual for the big giant house that my character will live in, something I had a very hard time imagining because I don’t share a class background with her at all.
  • Sharing writing space with some of my biggest writing inspirations, some of whom are good friends that I don’t see often enough, others of whom I just know from online/their books and now have discovered that they are fabulous in person.
  • Decompressing after quiet time and have plot/road block talk around a fire pit with people who actually understand plot and don’t just stare at you for having a wild imagination:

  • Nightly meals with writer friends where you get to discuss more plot things as well as industry stuff that non-writer friends don’t get/find boring.
  • The nightly meals include Sarah Rees Brennan making curry and good lord does she make wonderful curry. She is also adorable and hilarious. Oh and Melissa Marr introduced me to Catalina dressing. Nom!
  • The nightly meals involve wine and sometimes Melissa’s fab cosmos. (There are drinks, but I do not have to bartend!)
  • The nightly meals/chats move either to the hot tub or the living room fireplace depending on the weather.
  • Since the hot tub is hot and the pool is a balmy 80 degrees sometimes you go nightswimming. And there is an awesome slide that you can go down. Repeatedly.
  • Instead of your usual workout, you can swim or run around the tennis court which has a wall that you can attempt to play racquetball against even though you suck.
  • Or you can go for your very first ever hike in the desert. Freaking gorgeous.

  • When you meet your final goal of the final writing day, you can bounce on the giant trampoline. If I had a giant trampoline to reward myself with, I’d be a more productive writer. Just sayin’
Ballads of Suburbia

Lessons on book beginnings and NaNoWriMo and other things I'm bringing to my writing retreat

I went to great lengths to document my struggles with the Bartender book so that I would have a reminder of what I’d been through before and what I did to get past the hard parts. I even wrote a post for Nova Ren Suma’s inspiration series on her blog about how my struggle with that book will inspire me in the future because I’ve learned how good a hard-won victory feels. (All of the inspiration posts on Nova’s blog are amazing, so be sure to check them out.) But I've never documented how I start a new book and this is proving to be a bit of a dilemma as I try to settle into a groove with my new YA project, which henceforth shall be called the Modern Myth book. (Just like the the Bartender book-- and before it the Rock Star Girl book and the Suburbia book--it has a real title, but I'm superstitious.)

I don't remember struggling with the beginning of a book in quite the way I am now. All of my books definitely come together slowly, but generally they do so visually in that I start clearly seeing (and writing!) characters and scenes. IWBYJR worked like that. I saw different moments in both Emily's and Louisa's lives, I wrote them and then one day while I was in an underground tunnel waiting for the train, it all came together. Emily would be a rock star and this fucked-up Louisa character would be her mom. From there, I just wrote and wrote, mostly in a non-linear fashion until I reached my usual point of self-doubt and chaos roughly three-fourths of the way through the book when I finally sat down and outlined. As I've mentioned before, BALLADS was actually started years before IWBYJR. I wrote a crappy rough draft that was way too autobiographical, decided I didn't feel comfortable with it and would write another suburbia story once I had better (ie. not as real-life based) ideas for it. When I finished IWBYJR, it was the only time I went directly to work on another book without having to flirt with several ideas first. It was also relatively simple (in my memory at least) because I pretty much took the ideas I'd come up with while I was working IWBYJR, combined them with my old draft and had a outline. I plowed ahead linearly that time until I reached the usual self-doubt part, which actually came about after I finished my draft that time.

And then there was the Bartender Book. The characters in the Bartender Book date back to grad school (ie. IWBYJR writing days) and they went through a few different incarnations too: a short story, fifty pages of a YA version of the novel. I also flirted with an early incarnation of the Modern Myth book at that time, but I sat down and drafted and then re-drafted the first 100-125 pages of the Bartender Book between March and early July of last year. That was a happy time. Then all hell broke lose. But ultimately, as you know, I finished that last month and was pumped and ready to dive into my next project.

The usual battle of the ideas took place. I'd been meaning to go back to the Modern Myth book, which is actually an idea that I’ve been toying with since early 2008 and wrote a 75-page partial for last spring. That partial failed to sell because it just isn't a good market for selling on partial unless you are a big name and I'm not. I'm actually relieved it didn't sell because I knew that partial was Just Not Right for reasons I couldn't quite put a finger on. So I did the same thing I had with that old, Not Quite Right version of BALLADS while I was working on IWBYJR, I set aside the Modern Myth book and made notes occasionally while I worked on the Bartender book. However I did not make as many notes because the Bartender book was frustrating and all consuming. Also I was intimidated by the Modern Myth book and I got another great, shiny new idea that seemed easier. So I spent the last week of October/first week of November going back and forth between the ideas, trying to decide which I liked better and since I like both and unfortunately still have a lack of confidence in my own gut, I sent to them my agent and some critique/brainstorming partners to decide. They voted Modern Myth book. I totally adore it as well, but it scares me shitless. Some of that is the usual self doubt (those natural fears that I suck/I'll never write another book/if this book isn't super awesome my career is shot, fears that aren't fun, but do keep me motivated and on my toes in a way), but the fear mainly stems from this being new territory. This book is still edgy and contemporary and *mostly* realistic, but the key issue here is the *mostly.* It has a twist, a bit of otherworldliness or magical realism, that modern myth thing.

Getting going on this book has been strange because instead of diving headlong into it like my first three, I'm slowly dipping my toes in, contemplating how the water feels and what it looks like in front of me. Maybe I did do this with my other books and just don't remember.... That's the problem with taking over a year to write a book, you really *don't* remember. All you can do is try things until something seems right and remind yourself all the while that every book is different.

I've done a lot of plotting for this book, which is something I rarely ever do. I usually see a scene, write it, then another scene, and so on til I get stuck and then I outline. Or more recently, I write roughly 50 pages for an agent or editor and put together a rough outline to go with it. But this time I sat down and started writing a summary. I even sent it to a couple of critique partners and brainstormed with them on it. I'm not entirely sure why I felt the need to do this--because it's story with mythical/otherworldly elements so it seemed like I was supposed or because I was just nervous after all the struggling with the Bartender book and because the previous partial didn't work.

After writing a general outline, the first 30 pages and confirming with my agent that this should be the next book, I decided to take advantage of NaNoWriMo to get going. This is also something that I've never tried before. I told myself I was aiming for 30K instead of 50 since I was already "cheating" by using a project I've written on. Secretly though, I kinda wanted that 50K. It started strong at first, but by the second week, I hit a wall, I couldn't see the scenes that I needed to write. I had no idea what was going on. So I went back into summary mode and wrote 10k words figuring out the back story and the middle of the book that has been hazy. Then I dove back in again writing fast and furious. By Thanksgiving, if I counted the chunk of summary, I'd met my personal goal of 30K. I ranged from writing 19 words (on a day when I had *no* time, but wanted to get something written, so I wrote a sentence) to over 2k. I averaged closer to 800-1000 words. Some days were good, but a lot were bad in that they *felt* bad. I wasn't enjoying the writing, I was just doing it to make my quota and it was crap.

This is when I discovered that there are varying degrees of crap. I expect my first draft to be shitty. I mostly want to get it over with, so I can get to the rewrite and polish, which is what I consider to be the good part. But there is that kind of acceptable crappy and then there is the crap where you are writing words for words' sake and you aren't connecting with the story at all. Maybe some people don't see the difference and can write through that disconnected feeling. I envy them as they probably write way fast than me. But I can't do it.

I didn't write Thanksgiving Day, and the day after I banged out about 150 shitty words because I was exhausted (Thanksgiving is a very busy bar time and I'd been working). Saturday when I was better rested, I tried to push myself to write 1500 or 2k words, thinking that if I just keep going til November 30th, maybe I'll have a full 30K that doesn't include summary or maybe I'll even get 50K if I really push. Then I could go back and fix all of it and finally capture the spirit of the story.... Hold on, I realized, why am I waiting to a certain date or certain word count to do what I know I need to do.

NaNoWriMo doesn't work for me in this stage of the game. Looking back at the Bartender book and my other two books, I realized that I really spent time on and homed the first 100 pages. Sure I end up doing a lot more polishing, and in the case of the Bartender book a lot of changing and restructuring, but by spending that time trying to write at a higher quality (not gourmet Mexican food, but not Taco Bell either, maybe Qdoba or Chipotle), I got to know my characters and their voices, my place, and the tone of the story. I don't have that for the Modern Myth book because I only wrote 25-30 polished pages. I won't ever find that by speeding along and writing a rough draft that is basically an outline with dialogue. It's just not how I function.

So, even though it's not December 1, I am done counting words for now. I met my personal goal and NaNoWriMo *did* work for me in a couple ways. It got me writing daily, something I plan to continue whenever possible even if it just means putting in 30 minutes or a couple of sentences on my busy days. I also loved the community of support and plan to keep posting about my goals and cheerleading other writers online. It also got my brain spinning on this book. Sometimes just putting the shitty words on the page got me to think about other parts of the book and helped me figure more out. And last but not least I learned (again in some ways because I did have disastrous results when I tried to write part of the Bartender book fast, though that was for different reasons) that I'm a turtle writer and I just have to accept this. Especially at the beginning of the process. I need a long time to stew and then I need to ease in to get to know the story. Then I can pick up momentum and set bigger word count goals and be less perfectionist (unless I have a major out of control sub plot, which was the issue with the Bartender book and why writing fast just dug me into a deeper hole.

I actually think that NaNoWriMo might work for me on novels that I'm roughly 30 to 35K into. That's the point when I need to stop lingering, obsessing and just go. I'm kind of hoping (though given my usual writing pace, it may be wishful thinking) that next year will line up that way. I know that is "cheating," but 50K isn't a whole book and I'm not the kind of writer who can write a bare bones book and then expand in the rewrite. (I wish I was! I feel like it would be less painful than all the cutting I've had to do.) So using it to finish a book when I'm at a good place to sprint would be awesome.

But for now, I'm going back to the beginning (or almost the beginning) to try to break into the story world. I'm actually writing this from an airport baggage claim while I wait for a friend that I'm going to a writing retreat in the Arizona desert with. I hope that removing myself from my busy life and fully immersing myself in writing the book will help.

I did a similar retreat (warm locale, same writer friends) in January when I was finishing up the first draft of the Bartender book. I talked about what I was packing and what my approach to that retreat was here, but this retreat is different since I'm starting a novel rather than trying finish/save a broken one. So I brought pics of the moodboard that I'm building for the novel at home:

Of course I can always look at my tumblr for visual muses too. (And so can you by going here.) I also have a very messy playlist (mostly a hodgepodge of Distillers, Hole, and The Corin Tucker Band songs that capture the general feeling of the book, but don't necessarily correlate directly with scenes/chapters as my playlists tend to do more of as my novels progress). I added a few more songs to the playlist ("Burn" by The Cure, "Clown" by Switchblade Symphony, "Ash Gray Sunday" by Screaming Trees, and "How Dirty Girls Get Clean" by Hole) and I also put the Faith and The Muse CDs I found in a box recently on my iPod because I feel like they might help. (I need to combine punk and goth for this book...) I only brought one paperback, which along with critique partner manuscripts will be my pleasure reading. Then I brought my research books, two nonfiction books on lore and mythology from a feminist perspective and a graphic novel that is a big inspiration behind this book. I also brought a plot book, which I read some of on the plane and used to go through the print out of my outline/summary. I still have a lot of questions for myself and I'm nervous as hell, but I think I have as much of a grip on the plot as I can right now and tomorrow I shall wake and begin a week of serious work.

I know it will be rough and crappy, but as long as I connect with it I'll be pleased. Hopefully I can return in love with this story and eager to keep up the daily writing routine that NaNoWriMo got me into with more realistic goals (500 words) until I'm ready to start sprinting.

That's my plan of action, what's yours? Especially if you did NaNoWriMo or some version of it, how did it go and what did you learn?

Ballads of Suburbia

My November Writing Goals, Tips & Roadblocks

While I didn't officially join National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, I've been trying to set active daily goals and a larger monthly goal so I too can benefit from the creative energy that my fellow writers put out into the universe during November. In other words, I'm a member of the NaNoWriMo Cheaters Club. I'm not following the rules of NaNo, but I'm trying to use that same sense of motivation to get myself into a new project. Suzanne Lazear wrote a great post about making NaNo work for you that pretty much sums up why I'm doing what I'm doing and she also is running a huge month long contest for all you guys with November goals, so check that out. I did sign up there and I've also been posting my goals regularly on facebook, twitter, and doing my best to cheer on those who respond. A group of friends of mine from high school are keeping each other motivated and checking in together as well. Oooh and I have a new office, freshly painted by my husband, perfectly arranged by me, but still in the process of being decorated so no pictures for you yet. Anyway, I feel like I have all kinds of good writing juju going on and that I could do this NaNoWriMo thing--or my version of it at least.

I suppose I should tell you what that version is and explain my goals for the month.

A week ago I sat down with two YA ideas that I couldn't decide between. I had roughly 30 pages written on each as well as general outline. My indecision and pages already written were what stopped me from officially signing up for NaNo, not to mention the fact that in the past word count goals that make me write fast and furious have not worked well for me. They go against my nature to write slowly and thoughtfully at least until I get into a groove. They also pushed me wayyyyy off track with the Bartender Book. So I wasn't ready to commit to 50K words in a month. I decided that 30K was more my speed and I thought I would alternate back and forth between my two book ideas until I picked one.

Day one I worked on the book idea I've had the longest. I've been toying with it in some fashion since the spring of 2008 and spent all summer hashing out what the problems with my older versions of the idea were with some critique partners and coming up with a general synopsis, some characters and these muses that I blogged about back in August. Yeah, that's right, August. I've been struggling with it ever since then, mainly because I see the very beginning of the book and I see the last third or so and I know what has to happen to get me there, but I can't see it unfolding. And normally the way I work on a book is that I have a character, a general theme, and I see a really compelling scene so I write it. Then I write the next scene and the next and so on. I don't usually even outline or plan until I'm a ways in, sometimes not even until I'm stuck. This book is not happening in my usual way. It made me think it was either a good candidate for NaNo-style writing because it would force me to write fast and push past the parts where I was having trouble and make discoveries or it was a terrible candidate because even though I think the idea is brilliant, I am not capable of carrying it out. Day one went well though. I had only limited time and I still managed to pound out 1710 words. They were awful and ugly but the story was moving forward.

Day two, I started work on YA idea #2. It's a shiny new idea as far as my ideas go, meaning I've only been playing with it since spring. It's been flowing like my ideas usually do. I had a character, a general theme or concept and I saw a really powerful scene and just started writing. It was unfolding pretty brilliantly except I had the nagging feeling that it was missing something, the big something that would make the structure work and define the spirit of the story, like the notebook of "ballads" in Ballads. It might still be too new, I worried, but I told myself it could be perfect for NaNo style writing since it was unfolding pretty well in my head. I found out pretty immediately that it wasn't. I did 861 words in the amount of time it had taken me to do 1710 on YA idea #1. I was wondering if it was a sign. Then my agent called. That was definitely a sign.

My agent told me how much she adored YA idea #1. She liked #2 as well, but she felt like #1 was so me and had so much potential and she reassured me that even though it was huge and scary I could totally pull it off. We figured out one of the things that had been stumping me and I told her I would do it, I would commit to YA idea #1. I had a couple of hours before I had to go work so I dove in and wrote as much as I could on YA idea #1 so I would have a decent word count on it for the day. I got 974 words on that project, bringing my total for the day to 1835.

I was revved by all of this, my inspiring talk with my agent and surpassing my own 1K goal to acheive real NaNo-size word counts for the first two days. I forged ahead and got 1722 words on day 3, but then things started to go downhill. Friday and Saturday are my busy days of the week and generally I don't write on those days. I view writing as my full-time job (even though I have a couple of part-time jobs on top of it that actually pay the bills) so usually I take Friday and Saturdays "off" and run errands or on some rare occasions, I socialize. Friday I actually had a ton of errands and staff meeting for my teaching job, so I only had half an hour to write, but I managed 655 words. Saturday I had a good couple of hours but only wrote 714 words. Sunday is usually a writing day for me, and though I am generally worn out from working til 3 am at my bar job on Saturday nights, I have a writing meet-up with one of my best friends that keeps me pretty productive. I did squeeze out 1013 words, but they were abysmal. Then yesterday, Monday, which is usually my best writing day of the week because I don't work the night before *and* I'm not going to either my teaching or bartending job at night so I don't feel the pressure to get done at an exact time, I wrote a terrible 741 words.

What is happening here? I think it's a couple things:

1. I'm stuck. As I mentioned before, I'm not seeing scenes for this part of book. I was hoping I could speed my way through and stumble on something but

2. while it got me over an initial hump, writing fast is not satisfying. I need to develop the voice of this book, it's texture, it's imagery and when I speedrace through, I'm not taking enough time to do that.

Nova Ren Suma wrote a great post about taking her writing slowly and rewriting as she goes and that is something I feel more comfortable with. But at the same time, I hate the fact that I write so slowly and I hate first drafts so I kind of want to get the rough draft done fast so I can get to the good bit: the rewriting!

Clearly what I need is to find some sort of balance where I take my time on some bits to develop voice and imagery and all that good stuff, but I don't worry about getting every scene perfect. However, time management is a huge issue for me. As I mentioned before, I only write 5 days a week, but I feel like this month, I should try to squeeze in even half an hour every day. I'm also trying to figure out how to deal with my life so I actually accomplish all I need to accomplish in one day and am not up at 12:42 am when I want to be in bed reading AMPLIFIED (have you seen the Women Who Rock Wednesday interview on that? Go read it and enter the contest.) but instead I have to finish the blog entry I meant to write at 5 pm and couldn't because I got behind on my teaching stuff and my freelance stuff and ended up totally neglecting my husband yet again. I know that for a lot of my friends who do NaNo, it's a way to fit writing into their hectic lives. Writing is already in my hectic life, but ever since I added teaching and writing for ROOKIE into the mix this fall, I haven't figured out how to get all I want done in a day. Anyway, that is probably a whole separate and personal issue (though I'd love to take time management tips if you have them as long as they don't involved get up ass early since I am a bartender and work til 2 or 3 am), but my point is I think I rush to reach word count because I have limited time to write fiction, and then even on days like yesterday (which is still today as I type this because I'm up too late) when I have plenty of time, I get these anxiety about building up words for days like today where I'll have limited time. But I need to start thinking about quality as well as quantity. I don't want to move at a snail's pace, but I don't want to throw words on the page just for the sake of a number. Of course this is easier said than done for the girl who is very clear concise goal oriented.

Also the larger problem is this "not seeing the scenes I need to be writing" thing. I'm really not sure how to remedy that. I did write my first book non-linearly by just "going to the moment that takes your attention" as I was coached to do in my MFA program, but since I wrote my last two books linearly, I'm a little freaked out about doing this, especially since in this case I'm seeing the very last part of the book and it seems just wrong to write that first.

I'm really hoping that slowing down and really lushly describing the places or the backstory or whatever might help. Part of me honestly wants to make a moodboard for the story. This is ROOKIE's influence on me. You can see the monthly moodboard for our latest issue here as an example and Tavi shows off her moodboard for the month here. I don't know if this moodboard thing is like a fashion world thing or what, but I think it is rad as hell. I also think I should have done it to prep for this month and now maybe it's just procrastinating. In my defense, I didn't have time to prepare. I finished revisions, I caught up on everything I put off while doing revisions and then I dove back into this thing. Maybe I need some muse time...

Though I would rather try to find the muse while writing. Last week one of my friends was struggling and I told her about some exercises that I teach. I'm going to share them here in case they are useful to you, too. I also may take my own advice and try a couple of them. Or jump ahead. Or slow down. Or perhaps one each day this week til I get it right. However I would also love any writing exercises or tricks you may try when you know the basic plot but aren't seeing the scenes unfold.

Here are my tools:

1. The Hands exercise: In the first paragraph, describe the space, the room the character is in which may be significant to them. In the second paragraph, describe the character's hands. That's right, skip over their face and other features we usually go to and describe their hands. You can tell a lot by hands: age, job, past through scars and tattoos, do they bite or manicure their nails. Next paragraph describe what they are doing with their hands: rolling a cigarette, lighting a fire, putting on lip gloss. Then bring another character into the scene and have them interact.

2. The photo exercise: Look for a photo that reminds you of your story in some way. Write a scene about it in which there is CONFLICT. Could be internal conflict but actual interaction is better. (NOTE: Ooooh this gives me an excuse to look for moodboard stuff....)

3. The flow exercise: See your character in their flow, meaning doing an activity they love so much they lose themselves completely in it. Like playing music, a sport, cooking, painting, etc. Describe how they do it, how it makes them feel, make it really visceral. But again, move it toward a conflict. The example scenes I read my class were from Firelight by Sophie Jordan, where the main character a draki (part dragon, part human) sneaks out to fly, a thing she loves, but she gets caught. Also from Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra where a girl experiments with graffiti art for the first time to bring her own art to the next level, but then she sneaks back into the house and her mom is pissed. And last but not least from Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly where a girl with Aspergers who has always played music on her own, meets two other people and starts to write a song with them and realizes the experience is so much better that she has to get past her own blocks about other people and form a band with them.

4. Draw your plot on a giant piece of paper. Whatever shape it forms, however it best suits you. Use lots of colors, collage if you want. (AGAIN: MOODBOARD POSSIBILITIES!) You can also list your conflicts, assign them a 1-10 rating for conflict and graph them to see how the book flows.

5. Those were admittedly all exercises that I learned from another teacher and modified a bit, but I also have my own. The Ballads exercise. Yep, like my characters in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. Take the character you are struggling with and write their ballad. Let them put a song quote up top and the dive into their inner darkness, and let them write as it says in the BALLADS back cover copy, "heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives."

Those are my main tools, but as you can see most are character-based because I'm a really character-driven writer. Maybe #2 and #4 would help me, but #4 doesn't involve putting words on the page and #2, well, I could totally waste hours looking for that picture. So if you have good tips for when you are stuck discovering plot and scene, please let me know!
Ballads of Suburbia

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Tara Kelly

I'm taking a bit of a hiatus from Women Who Rock Wednesday while I get a new YA project going, but I had to invite Tara Kelly back to the blog to celebrate the release of her new book AMPLIFIED! Tara is one of my all-time favorite writers and I've been dying for this book since I finished HARMONIC FEEDBACK. She knows real teen characters just as well as she knows music and the result is incredible contemporary stories that music lovers like me will devour. I can't wait to crack my copy of AMPLIFIED this week and I think once Tara tells you about it, I think you will be running out to buy it, so let's meet her, shall we?

Q: Tell us about AMPLIFIED. What inspired you to write it?

TARA: Amplified is about a girl who is kicked out of her house because she decides to pursue music over college. She lies her way into a band (saying she has experience she doesn't have) and has a modest savings (for Santa Cruz standards) to live off of. Naturally things go wrong.

Funny story: Amplified was originally a paranormal about a ghost-hunting band. Jasmine was psychic and could see ghosts and..well, it didn't really work. I also realized I was far more in love with the story of the band than the 'main' ghost story. So, the Amplified that's out now was born. I've always wanted to write about a band, especially band practice. Some of the most intense/funny/liberating/crazy moments happen while you're stuck in a hot room together trying to coordinate a bunch of personalities into one song. Remember that old movie The Breakfast Club? What would happen if you gave those characters instruments and told them to write a song together? Chaos, fighting, and even some common ground? Probably.

The band in my book (C-Side) brings five very different people together. Sure, they all like industrial rock and music. But...they all have different ideas of what a song should sound like. They all have completely different personalities and ways that they approach writing and performing. And I have to say it's a hell of a lot of fun to write. I also wanted to focus on girls in music, especially girls who do more than sing. Not saying there is anything wrong with singing. I personally love it! But I'd just like to see more stories out there about girl guitarists, girl drummers, girl bassists--girl banjo players? That might be interesting.

For more info, go to my new book website:

Q: If AMPLIFIED had a soundtrack (and knowing you, it probably does!), what are five songs that would be on it and tell us how they relate to the story or characters.

TARA: Ha--actually I just did a post about that very thing here.

Q: I'm an enormous fan of your first book HARMONIC FEEDBACK and I know that AMPLIFIED is music-inspired, but I imagine that you'll be bringing something new to the table with AMPLIFIED because every book is different. Can you talk a bit about those differences and maybe even how your process for writing them differed if it did?

TARA: Well, as I said above Amplified was originally a paranormal, so a big difference right there. But when I decided to make Amplified about a band, I pretty much wrote an entirely new book.

Harmonic Feedback was more like a violin. Slower paced, rich with emotion, dark, intense, with a dash of quirk. Drea's unique view of the world really drove that story forward, making every day things a big deal. Just about every new experience was intense for Drea. Some of the scenes were tough to write because they would draw so much emotion out of me, but so worth it. I felt like that book made me become a better really tested me in many ways.

Amplified was more like an electric guitar. Faster, louder, and more light-hearted. After writing Harmonic (mind you I was watching a LOT of Gilmore Girls), I wanted to write another music-driven story, but I wanted the main focus to be on the band. And I wanted the story to have a lot of funny moments. This isn't to say Amplified doesn't have its dark or emotional parts--I can't write a book without some grit/emotion. But overall it's a fun book and it was fun to write--something far more likely to make you laugh than cry.

Q: You are a musician in addition to a writer, can you tell us about your music? Do your two creative processes feed each other or are they very separate?

TARA: I AM a musician, although I haven't had as much time for my music as I like. The day jobs and writing have to come first...which often times means I can't write songs as much as I used to (which breaks my heart, to be honest) If I could be a full time writer and musician? Ha...if only all of us could, right? My music tends to be all over the board in genre. I love writing guitar-heavy industrial stuff, trip-hop, synth-pop, and even some acoustic stuff. My main love is electronica, though. I also love to produce since I'm a perfectionist and all. My favorite instrument is most definitely the guitar--it's raw, can be kind of painful sometimes, packed with emotion and sass, and releases me like no other instrument ever has.

My creative processes aren't generally separate. I need music to write and I need to write to make music. I often write songs from my character's POV. My lyrics come from them!

Q: Can you tell us a bit about what is up next for you?

TARA: Right now I'm working a psychological thriller that I'm super excited about. It's much different from my previous books and a little intimidating, but I'm also kind of obsessed with the characters right now and want any excuse to spend time with them. I consider that a good sign :)

Q: I have two standard questions for my Women Who Rock. The first is a two-parter: What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge.

TARA: know I always say the first album I bought was Alice in Chains "Dirt", but I was thinking about this the other day. It might have been Bjork's Debut album. Either way, it was ONE of those :) The first concert I went to on my own (not my parents dragging me) was White Zombie and Babes in Toyland. And even today, that remains one of my favorite concerts of all time.

Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

TARA: Last time I said Poe, but I've had a rockstar moment since then. Earlier this month Harmonic Feedback won the Oregon Spirit Book Award from the English Teacher's council. They invited me to the award ceremony where the organizer presented each book and talked about why it won an award or honor. When she got to mine, she talked about how much one of the character's reminded her of some of the kids she works with. How much it moved her, made her gasp at one point and made her cry. But mostly how true it rang to her. Then she went on to talk about a student who never did any of her work, but she read my book in two days. That's when it really hit me that my book is out there and its reaching the kids I wanted it to reach. Can I ask for a bigger rockstar moment?

No, you couldn't! That is really awesome! And the award was well-deserved.

Today's Contest:

Tara has a very special prize planned that is so appropriate for this book. She's giving away an iMix of her playlist for AMPLIFIED!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about AMPLIFIED
+5 for blogging about AMPLIFIED

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win.

Since this is a download, it is most definitely open internationally!

Since I'm going on blog hiatus, please be sure to leave an email address or way to contact you. I will be drawing the winner on November 16.

And speaking of contests....

Tara's agent is running a really awesome one. Buy and spread the word about AMPLIFIED and you could win a ton of cool prizes including a basket of books. It runs until November 7th and you should get on it here. Especially since I'm guessing you are already running out to get AMPLIFIED :)
Ballads of Suburbia

What Life After Revisions Looks Like & Musings on New Projects & NaNoWriMo

Sunday night, err technically Monday morning, around 1:30 am I sent in revisions to my new agent Adrienne Rosado. (Yes, in case you missed the Twitter announcement on the 7th. I have a lovely new agent. She is amazing and I already adore working with her. I'm sure I will talk more about this in the future.) These were hopefully the final revisions that I will have to do on The Bartender Book before it goes on submission to publishers. They were not massive revisions like my revisions back in May. They took only two weeks and were just minor tweaks of rearranging some information and scenes and then polishing my word choices, reading the manuscript aloud, etc. I will probably talk more about this later. Mostly I just wanted to show you what my office looks like after 2 weeks of revisions that happened to overlap with a very busy point in the semester for the YA fiction class I'm teaching (student conference time) and a bunch of freelance deadlines:

Not pictures are the piles of student work, but in the bottom right, you can see an explosion of junk from a box of my junior high and high school memorabilia that I went through to work on my latest piece for ROOKIE. And yeah in the bottom left, those are dirty dishes from Sunday's lunch. I know, ewww. But I was really focused on the book and nothing else at the point. It's lucky I ate, bringing dishes back downstairs was so not a priority. Oh and the pink thing is my Snuggie. It's freakin' cold in my office.

Now how about a close up on my desk:

The Synonym finder is open because of that final polishing stage. The two little notepads on top of it are the places where I randomly scrawled down words that seemed overused while I read the manuscript aloud. The notebook underneath contains my timeline and other notes for the Bartender Book. Also of note, the bag of cashews, which I almost had for dinner Sunday night, but my wonderful husband volunteered to go to Chipotle for me. To the right of the computer are the weekend's worth of mugs from the massive quantity of tea consumed and yeah, gross, I know, an empty soy yogurt container. Again, it's lucky I remember to eat. Above my computer is a calendar with deadlines, some of which I missed. It is my only way of remembering things I need to do when I am in the thick of a project and sometimes I still don't remember. If my computer was on, you might see an email inbox with hundreds of email that needs replying to or deleting. I did the deleting part Monday, but umm am slow on getting everything else in order.

You might notice that in the top right corner, behind some print cartridge boxes, I have a picture of myself on my desk. I know. That's weird. Let me explain. It's a picture of me all fake-smilely and professionally dressed from the office job I quit after I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE came out. I scratched out the words assistant to the dean" and wrote "author, bartender, assistant to NO ONE" beneath it as motivation. I hated that job. I hated that I could even look like the real me there and it wasn't creative at all. I have the picture up to remind me that no matter how stressed I feel working the many different jobs I have to work to make ends meet (and ends still don't always meet), it is better than that.

So that is what is going to keep me going into the next project, which I am buzzing and ready to work on. It's going to take a lot of effort to actually catch up on my email and juggle the deadlines and other work I have this week because I don't want down time for writing. I love that book I just finished and I want to bring that to my next project.

What is that new project, you ask? I'm not entirely sure. I had three ideas that I've been pondering since June and now I think I've eliminated it down to two. There was one that I have been thinking on forever and have written a few partial drafts for different versions of it and I have all these muses for it and notes, endless plotting notes that I worked so hard on this summer, but before I went back to work on revising The Bartender Book, I was really struggling to actually *write* that story. Then I have this other idea that I just thought of earlier this year and I think I might be able to just let it spill out of me. I'm hesitant because it seems almost too easy and also because I feel like the other idea might be the better idea, the one with the bigger hook. However, if this one is easier to write, it might the one to do for NaNoWriMo.

That's right, I'm actually thinking of doing it this year. Not officially because well I will have already cheated because either project I pick will have roughly 25 pages already written on it. Also I'm afraid that if I put too much pressure on myself, I will set myself up to fail. That's just how I am. I generally don't write quickly and when I've had word count goals in the past, it has ended badly, but that said, I felt like I was in a bit of a slump this summer and now that the Bartender Book revisions and my new agent have me all motivated and excited, I want to keep my energy up, so I figure why not try it. Plus if all goes well I may be starting November in a new office. (That was my other reason behind showing you the messy office pictures, other than I like seeing that part of the writing process for people.)

My goal is not to write a whole novel in the month of November, but to write 50,000 words. It may be words on two different novels if I don't figure out what I'm working on by then. I may write a lot of those words in the last three days of the month while I'm on a writing retreat. I may just use it to kick me into gear and then forget about word count. We'll see.

What about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo? If you've done it before, do you have any tips for me about sticking with it? Or maybe you have input on which project I should work on?

Last but not least, today is my friend, Tara Kelly's release day for AMPLIFIED! A book about a female musician which I am very excited to read because, dude, we need more of those.

So Happy book Birthday, Tara and AMPLIFIED!

Ballads of Suburbia

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Pettybone!

I know I already have 3 contests running through the end of the week (and you can get all those details here) and that I said I was gonna take a bit of a blog hiatus (and I still might next month to get myself organized and on track), but I won't ever stop bringing you women who rock when I find them. I just might not do it as frequently until I get a bit more time. (It's crazy how much time it actually *does* take to find cool gals, beg them for an interview, write the interview q's, prep the blog post, pick a winner, etc.) But I had to bring you the amazing band Pettybone. Yep, that's right. A BAND! I know I've been doing a lot of authors lately because those are the women I know, but you know I think women who play rock n' roll are goddesses and Pettybone is so freakin' energizing and inspiring that I had to share them with you. I mean their new album "From Desperate Times Comes Radical Minds" has been described as having "a sound that grabs hold of you and draws you right in by the guts. With combining influences stemming from DC punk, blues, 80s & 90s hardcore and Riot Grrl, their mix is eclectic and the songs passionate."

‘Bands this exciting come along once every blue moon’– Terrorizer July 2011

'At their tamest they sound like the ever-volatile Gallows, but often careen into even darker, heavier & faster territory' – Kerrang 2011

'These lasses are the ones to watch' - Metal Hammer 2011

So, shall we meet them?

I caught up with bassist Lianna right after their tour and here's what we talked about.

Q: When did you start playing music? What inspired you? A certain musician, family member, teacher or friend? Who are some of your biggest musical influences (especially the women since it's Women Who Rock Wednesday, but men too!)?

Lianna: I started playing music when I was first school so around about 8 (I played clarinet) However I didn't want to play the clarinet I wanted to play the guitar but our music tutor thought I would be 'more suited' to the clarinet. Hopwever as soon as I hit high school I saved every penny I could until I could get my first electric guitar... and I have never looked back since, although I am a bass player now ;) For me, the music, that changed. I always wanted to play guitar because I saw these bands live, David Bowie, etc., and I thought wow! I want to do that. It was always very male oriented. Then I was given the record Bikini Kill – "Pussy Whipped." I had been listening to punk / Rock music for a while but I was looking for this to vent about the way I felt being a female who was into the alternative culture and mind set. I was just smoovered with boy laden alpha-male hardcore… Then an ex BF of mine gave me this record and it completely changed my life. The aggression they had, the realness and something I could completely relate to. Everything fell into place from there. The lyrics… I had finally found someone who was speaking my language. For me I think Bikini Kill are one of my main / biggest influences.

Q: Tell us about Pettybone. Who plays what? When and how did you all come together? And how did you come up with that fabulous name?

Lianna: Amy - Vox, Ivona - Guitar, Zel - Drums and myself Lianna I play bass. We had all played in other bands in the UK & Ivona had see us came with this idea for a band... She contacted us all and it all went from there really... The name Pettybone came from Ivona after reading the bible of the punk rock, Get in the Van with Black Flag and Pettibon’s images really struck her because they are shocking and provocative. Ivona changed Pettibon to Pettybone to differentiate from the artist and it gives it a much more femine twist ;)

Q: You have a new album out, FROM DESPERATE TIMES COMES RADICAL MINDS? Please share a link of where we can buy it and the best place to hear your music. How would you describe your sound? Are there one or two tracks on there that are your favorites (tough choice, I know! Even for me as a listener) or that you think stand out as definitive Pettybone songs? Tell us about them.

Lianna: to hear some tracks & the best place to buy it is

I would always describe our sound as 'The Sound Of The Revolt' You can take what you want from that really and interpret it in anyway you would like... Leaves less boundaries on what our music sounds like.

Two fave tracks? Hard one! A lot of our songs are pretty different. A really like a few of the new songs were working on at the moment but from the album I like best C.O.W which nearly never got recorded… It was a very last minuet decision to put it on there… The name was inspired by Lydia Lunch's spoken world performance. A bit of agitation song ;) that urges women to come together and create culture and space for themselves rather than trying to fit into the male dominated world/culture. Conspiracy of Women starts where the Riot Grrrls left off. It's also Ivona's blog. Bass playing wise for me, it’s Breaking Away… It has some serious groove and I think it establishes my kind of style of bass playing. Also Northern Line I like the contrast of very soft pixie-like then very heavy build up. But its hard to pick two! I like all of our songs… another very notable song is Pettybone as it’s our manifesto.

Q: What was the recording process for your album like?

Lianna: It went amazingly well. We recorded an album in pretty much 2 days… Pretty insane. And it sounds amazing! We just went in and nailed all the parts in this manic storm, then left... We had Sam Thredder of Cros Nest record us in the UK and Kurt Ballou of God City mix us and record a “secret track” in Boston ;) We are all so happy with the outcome and we can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

Q: Are you touring at all? If so, share dates. What do you like most about playing live?

Lianna: We have just got off the back of a Euro tour today which was pretty insane! We are just about to announce some other dates in the UK at the end of November with Retox & a few other special shows... So keep your eyes peeled to our sites. We will hopefully be hitting stateside March time, so watch out. You can never get any feeling like the feeling when you play live... it's just an intense way to let out all your feelings.

Q: I have two standard questions for my Women Who Rock. The first is a two-parter: What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge.

Lianna: The first album I bought? I remember the single - It was Mr Blobby - The Blobby song. HAHA However with album I just used to knick them off my mum & family. The first concert I attended, a big one? I went to loads of pub gigs with my mum however we lived quite near wemberly arena so I think my first big one was boyzone... :s HAHAHA

Q: Please dish about the moment where you felt most like a rock star. Maybe it was a moment of big success in your career, an "I'm Not Worthy!" Wayne's World type moment where you met someone cool, or a time where you just got the rock star treatment.

Lianna: Rock star treatment? Well I guess on the euro tour we had this guy waiting for us in Budapest who had a picture of us to sign and knew all our names... I was like woah!

Today's Contest:

After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want to hear Pettybone and you are in luck! Lianna is offering up a free download of one track!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about Pettybone
+5 for blogging about Pettybone

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win.

Since this is a download, it is most definitely open internationally!

Since I'm going on blog hiatus, please be sure to leave an email address or way to contact you. I will be drawing the winner on October 12.
Ballads of Suburbia

Dudes, there are CONTESTS!

Holy crap guys, I am running three, that is right THREE contests this week. Two were set to end on the 28th and one on the 30th, but I have decided that's a bit silly isn't, so how about they all run through Friday the 30th. Soooooo PLEASE ENTER!

Here they are:

Contest #1: Spread the word about ROOKIE and DEAR BULLY and you could win a boatload of stuff! Signed copies of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, BALLADS, and DEAR BULLY (well that one will only be signed by me, sorry I can't get the more exciting authors, but you will at least get to read their essays!) PLUS copies of my zines PLUS the lovely Karen Mahoney is giving up a signed copy of THE IRON WITCH. Yeah, that is a lot of prizes. Find out the details and enter here.

Contest #2: Win Patricia Ann McNair's TEMPLE OF AIR. This book rocks. Patty rocks. She was one of my best professors. She is super cool. Learn about it and win it here.

Contest #3 Win the ENTHRALLED anthology. Jeri Smith-Ready is putting this up for grabs and you can learn about it here and read an interview with Logan Keeley as it is his story that Jeri tells in ENTHRALLED.

I'm actually kinda sorta bummed that the entries are so low in these contests. (Well, except for the ENTHRALLED contest. You guys are very excited about that one.) But that means everyone who enters has a really good chance to win, so pretty please enter?

I'm pondering taking a blog and contest hiatus because it seems none of my contests and blog posts have gotten as many comments as usual lately. Maybe it's just an end of summer/beginning of school thing and much like traffic at the bar where I work is down, so is blog traffic? Though, I think this is partially my fault because I took that blog hiatus around this time last year and maybe it never recovered. Or I'm boring cause I haven't had a book out in a while (sorry, working on that!) or I'm too terribly long-winded (again, apologies, can't help that). So maybe that means it would be really dumb to take another hiatus, but the fact is that I'm spread INSANELY thin right now between teaching, writing for ROOKIE, writing fiction, bartending, group blogging, and maybe sometimes occasionally wanting to spend time with my loved ones so something has to give and since it doesn't seem like there is much interest on this blog anymore it might be this. But I dunno. I've said this before and I've always come back because this is my outlet.... However, I think ROOKIE is becoming more and more outlet for memory/essay/dish on my teen self type things. And I wonder if the whole interview/contest thing is done too many other places so that is why there is less interest. So that leaves me with writing life type stuff which I may keep blogging about here, but that too seems to be covered in a lot of other places maybe better than I can do. Then I've got my muses and inspirations, music I love etc, but that might be better suited for my new tumblr....

So yeah, I'm just not sure. This blog might have to take a backseat for a bit again for better or for worse. I'm sure I'll have the overwhelming urge to babble about something so it's not like it will completely disappear. Then once my life feels a bit less chaotic hopefully I can figure out what its purpose should be and give it a better direction that will interest you all again. As usual if you have insights, please do share. And then just please, enter those contests. I'd rather go on hiatus with bang rather than a whimper. And I just want to see if you still do like contests!
Ballads of Suburbia

Guys Rock Too Thursday!: Logan Keeley (from Jeri Smith-Ready's Shade Trilogy)

Welcome to a very special Guys Rock Too Thursday. Today is a highlight for me because I got to interview Logan Keeley, who you may know from Jeri Smith-Ready's SHADE trilogy. In the new anthology ENTHRALLED, Logan got the chance to tell a story from his side, which I've had the privilege to read before release (I've read an early draft of SHINE too and it is AWESOME!!!!) and I know all SHADE fans, especially the folks who are Team Logan like me, will love. Since I've talked to Aura in the past, I thought I should bring Logan to the blog to celebrate the release of his story.

Q: Please tell us what your story is about and what inspired you to write it.

LOGAN: HEY! Thanks for having me. You have a very, VERY cool blog.

Inspiration? I was dying for the chance to tell my story. See, the SHADE novels are told from Aura’s point-of-view. Since I really hurt Aura by, you know, DYING, I worry sometimes that I don’t come off so hot. And this part of my life—making up with my brother Mickey—was super important to me. There was no way I’d ever be able to pass on if we didn’t forgive each other. I mean, it was my fault he felt so shitty about himself.

Anyway, I am SO excited for the release of “Bridge” in ENTHRALLED. No offense to the Woman Upstairs (that’s what me and Zach call Jeri), but some of those other authors in the anthology are HUGE, and my story’ll probably get read by more people than have read SHADE. So if people go ahead and read SHADE afterwards, they’ll already understand what I’m going through and hopefully won’t hate me.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your story, what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

LOGAN: I made a playlist for Aura called “Sucks to Be a Ghost (Sometimes).” It pretty much sums up a lot of my feelings about dying and losing her and feeling ignored by the world. Some of my favorites are “Thistle and Weeds” by Mumford & Sons (actually, their entire album SIGH NO MORE helped inspire the story—“The Cave”* and “Little Lion Man” make me think of Mickey), “Ready to Fall” by Rise Against, and “Movin’ On” by The Tossers.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Also, the Woman Upstairs transcribed the lyrics to “Forever,” the song I wrote for Aura right before I died. You can read them here.

Sharing that song was like peeling open my rib cage and showing all my internal organs. And it made a lot of people cry, which…well, I guess I’m better at MAKING people cry than I am at dealing with the aftermath.

*Speaking of “The Cave,” these lines just kill me when it comes to me and my brother:

I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again.

Q: Who were some of your inspirations to become a songwriter or the inspirations that keep you writing? Feel free to include other authors, teachers, parents, or people in other creative fields, whoever is an inspiration to you!

LOGAN: I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Shane McGowan of the Pogues, and of course Dave King and all of Flogging Molly. But day to day, my biggest inspirations are the people I love, Aura and my family and friends. They’re what I write ABOUT and what I write FOR.

I also get inspired by sports stars—how hard they have to work to get where they are, and how they get criticized constantly. Like, they can be the hero one week and everyone worships them, and then the next week people say they should be fired. I dunno if I could handle that much pressure without totally cracking.

At least musicians, once they hit it big, hardly ever get booed by their fans unless they show up so wasted they can’t play. So even if your music starts to suck, you just play your old stuff and people are happy. To your face, at least.

Q: Even though music plays in so heavily into my storytelling, I rarely can actually listen to it while I'm writing. Can you? How does music fit into your writing process?

LOGAN: No, I need to hear my own music in my mind. Certain bands are more ear-wormy than others. Like Flogging Molly, they take FOREVER to get out of my head, and they used to keep me up at night. Listening (or rehearsing) “Devil’s Dance Floor” after 6pm was like drinking Red Bull as a bedtime snack.

Q: What is next for you? What are you working on now?

LOGAN: Hmm, I can’t tell you much without totally spoiling SHINE (or the end of SHIFT, for that matter), but right now I’m just hanging out on Twitter with my peeps. They are so amazing—they check in every day to see how I’m doing, and they ask my advice about guys. Some of them—okay, pretty much all of them—flirt with me, which is cool. I miss that kinda attention from my days with the band. Doesn’t mean I don’t still love Aura with one hundred percent of me.

Twitter’s also given me the chance to sorta bury the hatchet with my rival, Zachary Moore. It turns out he’s pretty cool. Most of the time.

Q: I have two questions that I always ask my Women and Guys Who Rock, the first is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended? Be honest, we don't judge, we like to see the roots of our folks who rock!

LOGAN: I gotta be honest, because ghosts can’t lie! The first album I bought was EVE 6 by EVE 6. Okay, technically my mom bought it for me because I was a little kid. But I begged for it because I loved that song, “Inside Out.” I thought the part about a heart in a blender was so funny. IRONIC, NO?

(I died of ventricular fibrillation, for your readers who don’t know me. Although actually I died of stupidity.)

My first concert was Rancid. Holy CRAP, were they amazing! I’ve seen them so many times I’ve lost count. Eight, I think. Yeah, since I can’t lie, that must be right.

Q: Tell us about your biggest rock star moment, perhaps it's a moment of real success in your career, a time when you met someone super cool and had that Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" moment, or just a time where you felt like you got the rock star treatment. I get a huge variety of answers for the questions, so it's pretty much whatever "rock star moment" means to you!

LOGAN: Probably the time this little dude, maybe seven years old, recognized me in the skate shop. He was like, NO FUCKING WAY, THAT’S LOGAN KEELEY FROM THE KEELEY BROTHERS! And his mom got all mad at me, like it was my fault he screamed the word FUCK at the top of his lungs. Though I did laugh, so she probably thought I was encouraging him. But it’s freaking hilarious and cute when little kids cuss, right? She wouldn’t even let him get my autograph. It was a SKATE SHOP, for God’s sake, not a church.

Thanks for visiting us today, Logan! That was quite a fun interview and I'm sure my readers really want to get to know you now, which brings us to....


<<---The Woman Upstairs (A.K.A. Jeri Smith-Ready) is giving away a copy of ENTHRALLED.

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:

+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about ENTHRALLED
+5 for blogging about ENTHRALLED

Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win.

Please note that due to shipping expenses this prize can ONLY be shipped to US addresses.

I will be drawing the winner on September 28 during my next Women Who Rock Wednesday interview!
Ballads of Suburbia

GCC Presents: The Lowdown on DEAR BULLY

Usually when one of my girlfriends from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tours, we do an interview, but since Megan Kelley Hall is touring to get the word out about an anthology with tons of contributors, she just gave me the ultimate lowdown on DEAR BULLY. As you know, I contributed to this anthology and am super proud of it. So proud in fact that I'm running a big contest to spread the word about here. Tweeting about/linking to this blog post will get an entry a piece for that contest and reposting this info on your blog will get you five entries. So read on, then spread the word and enter the contest!


Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones formed the group YAAAB (Young Adult Authors Against Bullying) in April 2010 when they both coincidentally blogged about the Phoebe Prince case on the same day. Megan reached out to Carrie expressing her frustration with this case and the fact that bullying that seemed to be growing at a ridiculously fast rate. As a Massachusetts resident and having already spoken about bullying in schools, Megan was horrified after hearing about the bullying that took place in the Phoebe Prince case. While writing her books, SISTERS OF MISERY and THE LOST SISTER, she had to dig deep to make “mean girls as evil as she possibly could. When she heard about all the bullying and bullycide stories in the news, she felt like the bullies had jumped off the pages of her book and into real life. She was also disheartened by the numerous times she’d done book signings and would say to readers, “I hope you never meet girls as mean as the ones in my book.” Shockingly, they almost always said, “We already have.” Carrie Jones was also moved to do something, as she was the target of bullying as a young child due to a speech impediment. Together, they felt that they owed it to teen readers to discourage bullying -- to make it "uncool." Megan Kelley Hall started by creating a Facebook page that kicked off an entire "movement" to end bullying. This was the day that Megan, Carrie and other authors decided to use their platform as Young Adult authors to actually facilitate change and to be a voice for those kids who cannot speak out or are too afraid to be heard.

Right away, a large number of authors jumped on board of this cause -- wanting to be involved in any way possible. The Facebook group jumped from 5 to 1500 members in one weekend and is now closing in on nearly 5,000 members. Carrie and Megan were thrilled when HarperTeen offered to put all of the stories into an anthology. The thought of having 70 authors – well-known, highly successful writers – sharing their personal bullying stories with their fans was something beyond what they had ever hoped for.

The stories in DEAR BULLY come from all angles: from the point of view of the victim, the mother, the friend, the sibling, the classmate – even a few from the actual bully. Some of the stories are light-hearted, while others are raw and emotional. All of them drive home the point that bullying is something that almost everyone has experienced. And while that is a sad fact, they want to prove that it's not a rite of passage. It doesn't make you stronger, wiser, or better. But it is something that can be overcome, something that can be changed, something that is relatable, and something that one should never be ashamed of. Through these stories, the authors want to show that they understand what teens are going through today. It is important to encourage bystanders to speak up and make bullying unacceptable. Parents and adults must get involved. Bullying is something that people no longer have to endure--at least, not by themselves.

Though quite a lofty mission, the goal of DEAR BULLY is to help just one person get through a difficult time, and hopefully make bullying a thing of the past.

Don't forget to join the Facebook page at, visit the website at, or follow DEAR BULLY on Twitter at

“FIGHT BACK WITH WORDS. Better Homes & Gardens recommends DEAR BULLY: Remind youngsters heading back to school that getting picked on is tough—but that words can also heal as much as they can hurt, as one anthology proves.” – Better Homes & Gardens

“This anthology of personal essays provides empathetic and heartfelt stories from each corner of the schoolyard: the bullied, the bystander and the bully himself are all represented. Their words will be a welcome palliative or a wise pre-emptive defense against the trials of adolescent social dynamics.” --New York Times

“Two of them, both authors of novels for young adults (Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones), have drawn on the power of the written word to focus attention on the problem and offer solace to the bullied.” – --The Boston Globe

“You’ll love it if… You know someone (or are someone) who’s ever been involved in any type of bullying incident. There’s something in it for everyone, on all sides of the spectrum. You’ll love it even more if you can find a story that inspires you to help someone else.” –

“With authority often turning a blind eye and cyber-bullying rampant, this timely collection is an excellent resource, especially for group discussion, and the appended, annotated list of websites and further reading extends its usefulness.” – Booklist

“Powerful…All of these stories feel authentic and honest, and readers will find a story or a person to identify with, to look to for comfort or guidance.” School Library Journal

“Bottom line is this anthology is a terrific tool for the counselor who can customize the entries to the needs of the victimized student.” -- Harriet Klausner

“This should be required reading of ALL young girls (not to mention some adults)….Dear Bully is for everyone who has grown up in this culture where bullying takes place every day, not just in the schools, but in our streets, in our homes, our place of work (and globally).Dear Bully unveils the truth of who we are as a community of people, and it's not pretty.” – New Pages Blog

“This is why I think this book is brilliant: Much like It Get's Better, this is a situation where one generation is reaching back to support the other... When you share your story you are shining a light. You never know who is at sea and relying on that light to get them home.” – Miss New York, Kaitlin Monte “Life Under the Crown” blog

“Dear Bully is a novel that needs to be on the shelves of every school library, and in every classroom. I hope it makes its way to the hands of the bullied and the bullies.” –The Crazy Bookworm Blog

“You Can't Protect Your Kid From Bullies Until You've Done This I was about halfway through Dear Bully, a new book of essays from 70 big name teen lit authors (for my fellow YA fans, I'm talking the likes of Megan McCafferty, Alyson Noel, R.L. Stine, etc.) when it hit me. These were all grown-ups talking about some of the worst days of childhood. And almost none had kind words to say about adults.” – Jeanne Sagar, The Stir and Yahoo Shine

“70 poignant essays that will make your tear and/or cheer. There is literally something in this book for everyone. I cried, I laughed, I wanted to write a letter to my Congressman, but most of all…I learned a few things. Bullying doesn’t take one form and it can occur at any age. This is must have for every library, teacher, and anyone who owns a shelf…or a table. Be a hero and buy this book for someone who is struggling.” –I Read Banned Books Blog

“I wish there had been a Dear Bully book 14 years ago.” --Lost in the Library Blog

“I personally think that this book should be required reading for all kids in the 7th grade. I’d even be so bold as to say a compilation for younger kids should be written as well.” --Confessions of a Real Librarian Blog

“This collection is so important and it couldn't come at a better time. This book should be in every administrator's office (their predecessor's failing to address this issue is a common thread woven through the experiences shaed), every media specialist's office, every counselor's office, and in the classroom libraries of every teacher works with these students who stories have not been told. . .yet. Here is the catalyst for discussion. Here are the authors saying, "It happened to me too. . .tell me your story." --Paul Hankins

“EVERY ADULT who works with tweens and teens should read this!” - Sandy

“Once I get the library's budget, this is going to be top of the list - and I'm buying two copies. I want to have one copy on the professional shelf for the teachers to look at and one on the shelf for the students to take out.” - Sarah

“This is a valuable look at how bullying shapes the lives of both the bullies and the bullied.” - Sarah

“Absolutely fantastic. Heart-wrenching and a reality check for anyone believing that this doesn't happen. I'm recommending this to every librarian I know to put this on the shelf.” - Maya

“What a beautiful, amazing, honest, important book. Five stars isn't near enough to show my love for Dear Bully. I'll be donating my copy to my old junior high.” - Colleen

“I knew I would enjoy this book, I just didn't think it would impact me as much as it did. I wish this could be in every middle and high school in the country.” - Stephanie

“I wish I could individually hug everyone who has ever been bullied. Seeing as how that mission is too tragically expansive to take on, I will settle for shouting, "Bravo!" to all the authors to contributed, and to HarperTeen for publishing this anthology. "Encore!" – Gabrielle Carolina

“Amazing anthology of stories about bullying (victimization, perpetration, being a bystander). I mean, what can I say? This collection moved me beyond words. Teachers, parents, and librarians NEED to share this book with their teens. Core title for all teen/ya collections.” - Lalitha

“It's another stark reminder that kids can't do this on their own. They need our help. Thank you to all 70 of these authors and Megan and Carrie for helping me not only set to rest my own past but to chart a path for my future as a mother.” – Jeanne Sagar, Goodreads

“These writers have taken a stand. It's time for all of us to do so as well.” - Jackie